Ruby Lodge Sheffield: NHS England “needs to think again” before closing child learning disability unit

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NHS England says the existing provision is “significantly under-used”.

Proposed changes to Ruby Lodge, a specialist children’s healthcare unit in Sheffield, would worsen support for children with severe learning difficulties and must be reconsidered, says UNISON.

Ruby Lodge, part of Sheffield Children’s Becton Centre, provides services for young people aged eight to 18, including residential stays with support from various mental health professionals.

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Staff say they have been told services will now be delivered in the community rather than in the bespoke unit, a plan which is currently being considered by NHS England.

Dr Jeff Perring, Medical Director at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We appreciate that this is a difficult time for our colleagues who have dedicated themselves to the care of these children. 

The Becton Centre for children and young people, which includes Ruby Lodge.The Becton Centre for children and young people, which includes Ruby Lodge.
The Becton Centre for children and young people, which includes Ruby Lodge.

“No decision has been made as to whether Ruby Lodge will close as an inpatient facility. We are currently investigating all future options.”

NHS England informed Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust that from April 1, 2024, they propose to change commissioning arrangements for inpatient learning disability patients under the age of 13. 

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Dr Perring added: “We are currently working to clarify the impact of this potential change on our Ruby Lodge facility … We will be working with our families, staff, NHSE and our Commissioning Hub to find an appropriate way forward.”

Ruby Lodge is the only specialist learning disability facility within a children’s trust in the country, and its closure would put a “huge burden” on staff, according to UNISON.

Charlie Carruth, UNISON Yorkshire and Humberside regional organiser, said: “Ruby Lodge is a specialist facility, caring not only for young people with severe learning difficulties but also providing invaluable support for parents and carers.

“Attempting to give that level of help in the community is totally unrealistic and puts a huge burden on staff who are being asked to deliver a service that simply isn’t feasible.

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“NHS England needs to think again about removing a facility that gives invaluable care to some of the most vulnerable young people across the country.”

NHS England says the existing provision is “significantly under-used”.

A spokesperson for NHS England North East and Yorkshire region said: “We asked the Trust, in their role as the lead provider, to develop plans for how it might benefit a wider group of local young people with complex mental health needs who are in need of specialist inpatient care.

“Any plans developed by the Trust would be subject to further discussions with staff, local young people and their families and other system partners.” 

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Ruby Lodge is one of three child and adolescent mental health wards provided by the Trust, but the only one with specialist learning disability provisions, with seven beds available.

Sue Highton, UNISON Sheffield community health branch secretary, said: “These proposals would put huge pressure on the dedicated health staff who provide a unique service that’s recognised across the country.

“The work of Ruby Lodge can’t be replicated in the community. The plans show a complete lack of understanding of how support is delivered and must be reconsidered urgently so young people get the care they deserve.”

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